Age of Liberty

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Kingdom of Sweden
Konungariket Sverige (Swedish)
• 1718-1720 (first)
Ulrika Eleonora
• 1720-1751
Frederick I
• 1751-1771
Adolf Frederick
• 1771-1772 (last)
Gustav III
President of the Privy Council Chancellery 
• 1718-1720 (first)
Arvid Horn
• April – August 1772 (last)
Joachim von Düben
LegislatureRiksdag of the Estates
21 February 1719
• Queen Ulrika Eleonora abdicated
24 March 1720
2 May 1720
19 August 1772
ISO 3166 codeSE
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Swedish Empire
Gustavian era


Gustav III's self-coup in 1772. This shift of power from the monarch to parliament was a direct effect of the Great Northern War

Suffrage under the parliamentary government was not universal. Although the taxed peasantry was represented in the Parliament, its influence was disproportionately small, and commoners without taxed property had no suffrage at all.

Great Northern War

Following the death of Charles XI of Sweden, his young son Charles XII became king, and in 1697, when he was only 15 years old, he was proclaimed to be of age and took over the rule from the provisional government. The states in which Sweden's expansion into a great power had primarily been at the expense of Denmark and Russia, formed a coalition with Saxony two years later with the aim of partitioning Sweden. After initial successes, Sweden's army was eventually reduced while the list of enemies grew. In a Swedish siege of Fredriksten Fortress in Norway in 1718, Charles XII was killed, after which most hostilities in the West ended. At the beginning of 1719, peace overtures were made to Britain, Hanover, Prussia, and Denmark.

By the

Riksdaler and a solemn undertaking of non-interference in her domestic affairs.[1]

Age of Liberty

Early in 1720,

Ulrika Eleonora, who had been elected queen of Sweden immediately after his death, was permitted to abdicate in favor of her husband Frederick, the prince of Hesse, who was elected king 1720 under the title of Frederick I of Sweden. Sweden also converted into the most limited of monarchies. All power was vested in the people as represented by the Riksdag, consisting, as before, of four distinct estates: nobles, priests, burgesses, and peasants. The conflicting interests of these four independent assemblies, who sat and deliberated apart and with their mutual jealousies, made the work of legislation exceptionally difficult. No measure could now become law until it had obtained the assent of at least three of the four estates.[1]

Each estate was ruled by its

lantmarskalk, or speaker of the House of Nobles, presided when the estates met in congress and also, by virtue of his office, in the secret committee. This famous body, which consisted of 50 nobles, 25 priests, 25 burgesses, and, very exceptionally, 25 peasants, possessed during the session of the Riksdag not only the supreme executive but also the supreme judicial and legislative functions. It prepared all bills for the Riksdag, created and deposed all ministries, controlled the foreign policy of the nation, and claimed and often exercised the right of superseding the ordinary courts of justice. During the parliamentary recess, however, the executive remained in the hands of the Privy Council, which was responsible to the Riksdag alone.[1]

Hats and Caps

The policy of the Hats party was a return to the traditional alliance between France and Sweden. Chancery President, and member of the rival Caps party, Count Arvid Horn acted with the recognition of Sweden's unequal status in this alliance. The Hats, however, aimed to restore Sweden to its former position as a great power. France supported the efforts of their ally to become a stronger military power and thus provided financial support to the Hats.[2]

The Hats initiated

Anne of Russia seemed to favor the Hats' schemes. Despite the protests of the Caps, a project for the invasion of Russian Finland was rushed through the premature Riksdag of 1740. On 20 July 1741, war was formally declared against Russia; a month later, the Diet was dissolved, and the lantmarskalk set off to Finland to take command of the army. The first major battle occurred six months after the declaration of war when the Russians routed the Swedes in Finland at Lappeenranta and captured the fortress. Neither side had major offensive achievements in the following six months, during which time the Swedish generals made a "tacit truce" with the Russians through the mediation of the French ambassador at Saint Petersburg. By the time that the "tacit truce" had come to an end the Swedish forces were so demoralized that the mere rumor of a hostile attack prompted a retreat to Helsinki. By the end of the year, the majority of Finland was held by Russia. The Swedish fleet was struck by an epidemic, and thus contributed little to the war.[2]

The Hats avoided a motion for an inquiry into the conduct of the war by shifting the focus of the Riksdag to the issue of succession. Queen

Kymi River was retained by Russia.[2]

Arvid Horn

Since 1719, when the influence of the few great territorial families had been merged in a multitude of needy gentlemen, the first estate had become the nursery and afterwards the stronghold of an opposition at once noble and democratic which found its natural leaders in such men as Count Carl Gyllenborg and Count Carl Gustaf Tessin. These men and their followers were never weary of ridiculing the timid caution of the aged statesman who sacrificed everything to perpetuate an inglorious peace and derisively nicknamed his adherents "Night-caps" (a term subsequently softened into "

three-cornered hat worn by officers and gentlemen, which was a display of the manly self-assertion of this opposition.[1]

Arvid Horn, President of the Privy Council Chancellery

These epithets instantly caught the public fancy and had already become party badges when the estates met in 1738. This Riksdag was to mark another turning-point in Swedish history. In the

August III of Poland. The Hats carried everything before them, and the aged Horn, who had served thirty-three years, was finally compelled to retire from the scene.[3]

Pomeranian War

Encouraged by

Adolf Frederick of Sweden (reigned 1751–1771) supported a rebellion to restore the privileges of the monarchy. The attempted monarchical revolution
, planned by the queen and a few devoted young nobles in 1756, was easily crushed, with Adolf Frederick nearly losing the throne in response.

That same year, the Hats saw a blow to their foreign policy. At the instigation of

Frederick Axel von Fersen, the Hat candidate, by a large majority; and, out of the hundred seats in the secret committee, the Hats succeeded in getting only ten.[2]

The Caps quickly ordered a budget report to be made, finding fraud on the part of the Hat government resulting in a large increase in the national debt and a depreciation of the note circulation to one-third of its face value. This report led to an all-round retrenchment, earning the parliament the nickname "Reduction Riksdag". The Caps succeeded in reducing the national debt, reducing wealth of the nobility in order to replenish the empty exchequer, and establishing an equilibrium between revenue and expenditure. The Caps also introduced additional reforms, the most remarkable of which was the

Russia to counter the influence of France.[2]

Although no longer a great power, Sweden still took on many of the responsibilities of a great power, and, despite losing value, the prospect of a Swedish alliance still held weight. Sweden's particular geographical position made it virtually invulnerable for six months out of the twelve, and its Pomeranian possessions provided easy access to the Holy Roman Empire. Additionally, to the east, its Finnish frontier was close to the Russian capital at Saint Petersburg.[2]

Neutrality, a relative commitment to defensive alliances, and commercial treaties with the maritime powers, became the basis of the older Caps' foreign policy. However, the Hats' relationship with France in the north drove the younger Caps to seek an alliance with Russia. This policy backfired, as France's distance to Sweden had left Sweden outside the territorial ambitions of France. Russia, on the other hand, saw Swedish land as a potential area of expansion[citation needed]. The 1772 Partition of Poland included a secret clause requiring the contracting powers to uphold the existing Swedish constitution as the swiftest means of subverting Swedish independence; and an alliance with the credulous Caps, or "the Patriots" as they were known in Russia, guaranteeing their constitution, was a corollary to this agreement.[2]

The domination of the Caps was short-lived. The general distress caused by their drastic reforms had found expression in pamphlets criticizing the Cap government, which were protected under the new press laws. The

crown prince, urged the senate to quickly summon a Riksdag in order to relive the national distress, but was refused, leading the king to abdicate. This resulted in the December Crisis (1768), leaving Sweden without a regular government between December 15–21, 1768. Eventually, the Cap senate yielded and the estates were called for 19 April 1769.[4]

On the eve of the contest there was a general assembly of the Hats at the French embassy, where the Comte de Modêne furnished them with 6,000,000 livres in return for a promise to reform the Swedish constitution to increase the powers of the monarchy. On the other hand, a Russian minister became kingdom's treasurer and a counsellor for the Caps. In return, the Caps openly threatened to use Russian force to punish their detractors, and designated

Riksdaler to secure the election of the latter.[5]

A joint note presented to the estates by the Russian,

Gustav called upon the new Privy Councillors to redeem their promise to reform the constitution. When, at the end of the session, they half-heartedly brought the matter forward, but it did not proceed, with the Reaction Riksdag disbanding on 30 January 1770.[5]


The Great Northern War left Sweden in a state of economic and demographic ruin at the start of the Age of Liberty. This period brought economic and social upheaval as well as industrial development. However, by the time the Age of Liberty ended in 1772, Sweden was by all objective measures a weaker nation than it was during its “Era of Great Power”. Its land was diminished, its

agricultural revolution in the 1790s and eventual large scale industrialization in the mid to late 19th century.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm 1911, p. 206.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911, p. 207.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 206–207.
  4. ^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 207–208.
  5. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 208.
  6. ISSN 0358-5522
  7. ^ a b Schön, Krantz, Lennart, Olle (2015). "New Swedish Historical National Accounts since the 16th Century in Constant and Current Prices" (PDF). Lund Papers in Economic History (140): 5, 11, 14, 16.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


Further reading